compared to what?

I was a bit bored. A bit meh, as they say nowadays, with no inclination to work on the plentiful harvest of tasks around me started enthusiastically as recently as yesterday. Instead of getting up from the desk and doing something definite I decided to amble into some vague internet activity. Thought I’d look up a few names from the past. Peek at a few profiles.

Big mistake.

As I read of their apparently glittering lives and careers, I could feel my centre of gravity shift. My air began to escape, soon followed by tears. After an hour or so of this, I was flat, poured out. All my achievements suddenly tiny. My progress miniature. Meaningless. Anxiety pinned me to the ground, like those weights that used to drop from the sky in old Tom & Jerry cartoons.

You see, I haven’t yet grown out of comparing myself with others. A pointless, dangerous activity.

A wonderful discussion broke out on a great blog recently about this sense of inadequacy we all feel (women in particular) when we’re standing near a leggy gorgeous model-type. But our internalised sense of inferiority is what makes us feel cr*p, not how she or he, that glamour puss standing in the spotlight– looks. Surprising numbers of beautiful people feel ugly inside. We somehow believe we’re not quite good enough, or clever enough, or pretty enough or enough enough. I used to spend a lot of time picking at this scab. Comparing myself with my peers, or with people I studied with, or worked, figuring out what I should be aspiring to. Where I should be going, by when.

And where am I now? Right here. Alive. Blessed in countless ways. Challenged every day to get up and get on with it. Mostly succeeding. Making progress towards my own goals, no one else’s. Sometimes remembering to celebrate. So this detour into an old toxic behaviour was a useful lesson.

Don’t play with deliberate sin, a former Bible teacher once said to me. This habit of mine, of seeing what others are doing and comparing myself with them, is a sin for me because it is not based on faith, as it says in Roman 14 v 3. By looking at others I’m not trusting the process that I’m in with God. I’m looking around at the waves, like Peter did when he got out of the boat and started walking on the water towards Jesus. He was doing the impossible under Jesus’s direction until he got distracted.

I was doing the impossible (or at least for me the highly challenging) under Jesus’ direction until I got distracted. Now, my impossible (or highly challenging) may not look like yours. It probably is a bit pedestrian by comparison. But God and I know what progress has been made in this tiny mind and life this last while. And no amount of copying some other beautifully coiffed buffed or polished specimen is going to help me as much as listening to what God is telling me here in my life, in my circumstances, with my hangups and history.

So here’s a reminder for me and perhaps for you, if you need one. If you must measure yourself against someone, choose you. Measure yourself against yourself. Notice your progress. Celebrate your victories, however small. Often just getting through the day with a degree of equilibrium and good humour is victory enough.

Years

28. Not the years of my life. I have a few more than that under my belt. I mean 28 years since I became a Christian. Yes I was young then, but truth be told I came to it out of desperation, not a desire to please my parents.

About ten years ago I met up with an old school friend who had become a Christian before I did, on a church camp I had invited her to. We hadn’t seen each other since leaving school and our lives had taken us to different countries to live and work. She asked me if I was still a Christian, and commented that she’d more or less messed up too badly to carry on with it. Or words to that effect. In my usual slow-off-the-mark way I didn’t answer, but felt desolate for her. I didn’t know how to say to her, as the night got progressively more rowdy, that she couldn’t fall beyond God’s reach. I hope for another chance one day.

Years and years of trying to formulate a brand of Christianity which would involve the least involvement and make commitment easier for the uncommitted should have disqualified me from the family of God years ago. And yet he  still hangs in there with me, reminding me in thousands of ways that he is faithful, even if I seem to bend with every new opinion I hear until I find my way back to truth. He sends me friends to direct and counsel, friends to comfort and encourage, friends to rub off my rough edges and challenge my complacency. In scripture, sermons, chance conversations and odd (and sometimes I do mean odd!) encounters he gives me continuous reminders of his love, affection and commitment no matter the state of my heart, my theology or my relationships.

The passage of time is a difficult process to accept for all of us. We long to mature but don’t want to grow older, let alone old. But to some I am ancient already, to those born this century I am practically a relic. There is no way to control this process or make it less humbling. Hair falls out and doesn’t grow again. Weight is harder to shift. I simply cannot eat two helpings of dessert. Ever. Again. (Strictly speaking).

But the flip side is that I know some things now. I have personal history and experience to draw on. My opinions carry weight. People assume I know what I’m talking about. They have confidence in me, treat me like a grownup, essentially. This was not always so. The heart remains a child, someone once said, and it is certainly true of mine. The same vulnerabilities I had as a child remind me to stay humble, focused and not too self-absorbed. From my teenage tears and all points between then and now, God has been with me. My constant companion. My provider. My witness. My source and my destination.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

And earth has nothing I desire besides you

My flesh and heart may fail

But God is the strength of my heart

And my portion forever  (Ps 73 v 25 – 26)

Worship

To worship is to simply give something the highest honour we can. The object we worship takes up more space and time in our lives than anything else. It can influence our world view, our opinions and our reactions. It has the casting vote. It cannot be replaced with anything else, at least, not easily, because it simply has no equal. It may be an ideal, a philosophy, a football team, an eating regime, what your stylist says you should wear, your career…the options are endless. Most of us have the tendency to worship something or someone. When we’re young we may adore our parents, and if not we certainly find other people or other things to fill the void. It may be celebrities, or gurus, or self-made millionaires. Any live concert shows that the idea of worship is not exclusively religious.

A friend recently asked me what I thought about styles of worship in the Christian church these days. She found the contemporary soft-rock style favoured at the moment distracting, derivative and predictable. A poor impression of pop music. On the other hand, she felt that more traditional, classical church music was more appropriate for the job. I heard myself say that the style didn’t really matter too much, because worship was essentially an internal, private affair between the heart of the believer and God; the moment of worship in a church gathering is a weird combination of a corporate and intensely personal event. The corporate singing of a congregation joins the church on earth to heaven, where angels worship God directly. It is an expression of continuity with that realm. It is also uniquely personal, because worship cannot be performed on your behalf; it is the only thing a human being can give to God, her or his individual expression of love and adoration. It can’t be done by proxy because it is a matter of the heart. It would be like getting someone else to write a love letter for you which contains none of your own feelings, words or your reasons for loving that person.

Styles of music are irrelevant in my view; I can connect or disconnect in any setting with any genre of music and that can be as much about my own level of engagement with God as anything else. I think that debates about worship music are distractions. Worship has nothing to do with music. It’s about giving God honour. It’s about putting him first. For that I don’t need music. A book I read long ago by David Watson (called, strangely enough, Worship) came to the conclusion that worship was much, much wider than mere music and was actually about the entire orientation of one’s life towards God and his values.

Makes sense to me at least. One of my objects of worship, or to call it by its real name, idols, was the opinion of others. Not Looking A Fool. Yes, I dedicated many hours to that particular false god, and it is taking a while to unlearn all the postures necessary to prostrate myself before it. Now I am working on making room for What Will Please God. This means learning to value some things I didn’t before, and to discard others I once held in high regard. It’s challenging, to put it mildly. Like finishing this alphabet before year’s end. Like finishing it at all. Like this whole blog.